Fat Focus: Why You Should Eat More Healthy Fats

This year’s news sites may have left you feeling conflicted on how you should feel about dietary fats – after decades of low-fat recommendations, news articles started popping up, talking how butter isn’t bad for you, why you should eat egg yolks, and why you should embrace fats.

It wasn’t too long ago when all Americans were advised to adopt a low fat, low cholesterol diet.

All of a sudden, there was a lot of conflicting information, and a lot of questions from clients about fat – how should we feel about them? Should we ditch the low-fat products and bring back the butter? Should we eat the beef and throw out the bacon? Well, yes and no. It is really the types of fats you’re choosing most of the time that makes a difference.

There was a lot of research coming out in the 1970’s ad 1980’s that led to recommendations for Americans to decrease the amount of total fat (especially saturated fat) and cholesterol in their diets, which was often replaced with over-processed low-fat foods and carbohydrates, and without much guidance over what sorts of fats were still OK to be eating.

Use fats and oils sparingly

Usually when a food is processed and the fat is taken out of a product, companies have to add something else, and that something else is usually sugar, thickeners, additives and flavorings, which led to more processed low fat foods and refined carbohydrates. Replacing fats with carbohydrates (especially those refined carbohydrates) can lead to increased cholesterol and triglyceride levels. We replaced butter with margarine and vegetable oils, increasing our use of trans fats, like hydrogenated vegetable oils, which has now been shown to increase our bad cholesterol and decreases our good cholesterol. This is obviously the opposite of what the guidelines wanted!

Those low-fat foods also just don’t leave consumers as satisfied as the original product, which can lead to over-eating in the long run.

 How many 100-calorie snack packs or fat-free flavored yogurts could a person eat without getting full? Probably quite a few!

These foods are sometimes seen as better than a higher-fat food because they’re lower in calories, but those foods often contain a lot of sugar and just don’t leave you satisfied. Low in fat and low in calories doesn’t mean something is healthier.

The research can get confusing, and there are so many schools of thought on what type of diet we should be eating with varying levels of fat intake (vegan, paleo, raw food, the list goes on…) Based on the research on the benefits of healthy fats, people should focus on adding more of the whole foods (including more healthy fats) to replace more of those pre-packaged/processed snack foods.

Including good fats in your diet.

Good fats are the fats found in seafood, seeds and nuts – monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA). These fats can lower your risk for heart disease (and related deaths), help lower cholesterol, and are  likely to keep you satisfied longer when paired with a complex carbohydrate (vegetable, fruit, or whole grain).

Polyunsaturated fats:

Omega-3’s are always a hot topic.Fish and fish oil are great whole-food sources of these fats.   Omega-3’s are a type of PUFA that helps to reduce inflammation in the body, lower triglyceride levels and improve heart functioning.

Include more healthy fats in your diet by eating fatty fish (salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, trout or mackerel) at meals 2 times per week, adding ground flaxseed or chia seeds to snacks (sprinkled on oatmeal/cereal, on yogurt, in baked goods), and add walnuts to a homemade trail mix.

***If you are looking for a fish oil supplement, not all supplements are made the same. Look for at least 500 mg of DHA+EPA per serving of the capsules.

Monounsaturated fats:

You may have heard that eating nuts and olive oil can be good for your health – these are two great sources of monounsaturated fats. Although nuts are high in fat (and even contain saturated fats), this is where we again draw the line that not all fats are created equally. These sources of healthy fats are minimally processed and can not only make your heart healthy, but will again be more satisfying if added to meals:

  • Nuts and nut butters– a great source of heart-healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Look for nut butters with the oil on the top – it is easy to stir it in, and some of the other varieties contain trans fats/hydrogenated oils and sugar. For a snack, grab a small handful or ~1 oz of nuts and pair it with a piece of fruit or dried fruits.
  • Avocado – packed with vitamins E, C, potassium and loaded with fiber. Try swapping your usual sandwich spread for avocado or try topping your toast with some avocado instead of butter.
  • Olive oil – great on salad! A salad dressing with fat helps you absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in the vegetables

Coconut oil is actually high in SATURATED fats, not the heart-healthy MUFAs and PUFAs that have been shown to benefit our health. Although this fat is highly-regarded in articles on many popular health sites, there hasn’t been much research done on this fat.

Instead of focusing on cutting out processed foods entirely, make an effort to increase these healthy fats (nuts, seeds, fish, avocado, and olive oil) in your meals and replacing snack foods with sources of these fats.

How do you incorporate healthy fats into your diet?

This easy post-workout smoothie recipe is a great way to eat those healthy fats, has plenty of healthy carbohydrates to refill your glycogen stores, protein to promote muscle repair, and berries and healthy fats to reduce inflammation after a hard workout.

  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1/2 frozen banana (makes smoothie extra thick, like a milkshake)
  • Several handfuls of spinach
  • 1-2 Tbsp ground flaxseed (you can buy it ground and keep it in the refrigerator or grind it yourself with a coffee grinder) or 1-2 Tbsp chia seeds or 1 Tbsp nut butter of choice (peanut, almond, cashew butter)
  • 1/2 cup – 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup milk of choice

Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth. You can customize the smoothie with different fruits and seeds/nut butters. 

Perfect post-workout breakfast. Top with additional healthy toppings – oatmeal, granola, dried fruit, frozen berries, peanut butter, hemp seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, etc!
Call or e-mail the Sports Nutritionist to make an appointment and get recipes to incorporate more healthy fats into your diet.

You might also like:

EatRight PRO || Quick Tips for Making Environmentally-Responsible Seafood Choices

Kath Eats Real Food || Why This Registered Dietitian Eats More Fat

Fact Sheet || Coconut Oil and Health

Washing State Dept. of Health || Farm Salmon vs. Wild Salmon

Harvard Family Health Guide || The Truth About Fats: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly